WGSN caught up with Rebekah Hall, co-founder of Botanic Lab to talk green juices, Gwyneth Paltrow and how to position a wellness brand today.
Whether you rock the latest athleisure wear to yoga class or actively snap up a green juice instead of your latte these days, or have just witnessed the health and wellness market dominate your Instagram feed, you can’t deny that society has definitely shifted towards a healthier lifestyle. This shift in consumer attitudes to wanting better products and being more aware of what goes into our bodies, has created a new market for brands.
Botantic Lab sits within this market, launched in 2013 the wellness brand is more than just green juices. We grabbed some time to chat to Rebekah about co-founding the brand:
You gave up a 10-year career in corporate finance to set up Botanic Lab, what inspired you to do that?
Strictly speaking I didn’t leave my job to set up Botanic Lab. I left with no idea what I was going to do. I had always wanted to start a business and knew that I didn’t have the same career aspirations as the people around me. More than that I genuinely felt something was missing for me that: job, marriage and 2.4 children wasn’t going to fulfill and I wanted to explore what that was. I taught yoga for a couple of years whilst I tried out a few business ideas and learned more about the health and wellness industry. Christophe (my business partner) and I met by chance at a yoga retreat and we set the company up together.
There are a lot of brands targeting the virtuous customer right now, what particular gap did you see in the market for your product?
One of the ways in which Botanic Lab has separated itself from the rest of the market is that we have never sought to target the virtuous customer. People who are interested in health and wellbeing are naturally going to form a big part of our market but we wanted to create products that anyone can drink at any time and that don’t make lifestyle assumptions. The central tenant is to create functional drinks that are and experience to consume – both visually, with regards to taste and with regards to the physiologically impact on the body. We do this using ingredients in their natural state, and harnessing the power of those raw ingredients. We use the latest in technology to produce those drinks on a large scale and bring them to our customers in an efficient, slick and easy to consume way. For us that is part of the evolution of food and food technology – making healthy, raw and interesting products available on a large scale.
That mission comes from a very genuine place. These are the kind of products we want to consume ourselves and we don’t want to be patronised by a brand. Our customers are smart – they don’t need us to tell them what they should and shouldn’t be doing. What they want is something that is good quality, innovative, an experience that they couldn’t create themselves at home.
How do you develop the ideas for flavours? The Kola one is inspired…!
All of our products are centred around a ‘hero ingredient’, usually a botanical, that is prized for its physiological impact or use in other cultures. My business partner Christophe has a life long mission to bring to the mainstream some extraordinary ingredients that are not generally used in products here in the UK – a lot of this inspiration comes from the east, and in particular Japan. A flavour profile is then created around that ingredient, which is sometimes challenging as a lot of botanicals taste gross! Kola really only got its name right at the end of the process of creation. It started life as a drink created to showcase the Umeboshi plum. The colour and flavour were reminiscent of traditional kola so the kola nut (one of the original ingredients of coca cola) was introduced into the mix. That drink was about a year in the making in its various iterations!
For us using the name Kola is a bit of a finger up in the face of the over kill of green juices and smoothies – we want to do something that is truly innovative to get people who would usually pass over “healthy drinks” interested in these amazing ingredients.
Where can we buy your products and how are people consuming them (daily, as a treat)?
Our products are available to buy in premium retail outlets across London, direct from our website for delivery across the UK and increasingly in premium bars and restaurants. There is a huge gap in the market for innovative and premium soft drink options and the crossover between “health drink” and “soft drink” is one that Botanic Lab is well placed to fill.
Our products are consumed in lots of different ways. Some of our customers like to drink a Botanic1 (green juice) every day so that they know they have ticked off their consumption of leafy green veg and they are ready for the day. Others (like me) want to be able to have a great tasting and premium drink in a bar or a restaurant. Some of our drinks work well for serious sports people which is reflected in their popularity in gyms across London. It really depends on the person but we see Botanic Lab as part of a growing swell products that give consumers a better choice, rather than a doing something in the same way that it has been done by large drinks producers for many years.
You practice, and indeed teach, yoga but you describe yourself as “unashamedly cynical” about the health and wellbeing sector, can you explain what you mean?
The concept of wellness is one that I most definitely subscribe to. I came to this industry from having a long term personal yoga practise that has over time been a major tool to help me navigate the ups and downs of life. There is no doubt in my mind that the way you treat your body, your mind and what you put in to your body has an impact on longevity and quality of life. However, the health and wellness industry is in its infancy here in the UK and has been somewhat hijacked by social media perpetuated images of beautiful bodies, perfect lifestyles and immaculate gym wear. It is punctuated by media soundbites about the latest devil ingredient or food group.
In my mind this is not what wellness is about and these are not images or people that are aspirational to me. Equally I think that there is a huge amount of information and confusion about food and food trends. I think that this is a phase and that as a greater understanding of wellness practices and nutrition develops we will move on from this to a more imbedded appreciation of what wellness is, a greater connection to food and where it comes from, and therefore the impact that these things can have on longevity. I also like a lot of the ‘bad’ things in life like most of us and as far as I’m concerned a life without them would be boring and not worth living!!!!
The trend for “wellness” is huge at the moment, do you think perhaps more brands ought to be promoting a more realistic approach? We can’t all be Gwyneth Paltrow.
Yes and no. I think for a brand to resonate and be successful it needs to come form a genuine place. What I can’t stand as a consumer is a brand that is trying to catch a trend or ride a wave. I hate the term ‘balance’ which has now in itself become a buzzword de jour.
For me personally, when I’m exposed to brands that promote extremes it turns me off. However, I’m not an impressionable young woman any more (sadly) so I do understand the view point that brands should take the lead in promoting a more realistic approach.
‘We have created a brand that is in line with our lifestyles and interests and credit our customers with having the intelligence to decide whether that is something that resonates with them.’
To my mind there are a lot more people like me out there then there are like Gwyneth.
What have been the biggest challenges for you in establishing your brand?
Communicating our point of difference has been a process of evolution. We launched our brand at the front end of the cold pressed juice movement and rather than spending money on PR we concentrated on creating the best product in the market. To begin with this was frustrating as we weren’t getting noticed but that strategy has played out well for us as our products have become more widely available. Everything comes back to the product and we have a great product that is the most innovative on the market.
We have also come up against road blocks in getting access to certain retailers or buyers. This has happened a few times to us where a company has got there before us and blocked the category. Our answer to that has been to go around them rather than try to go through them. We have created a customer base in areas where our competitors can’t follow as the quality of their products and the integrity of flavour just aren’t; old enough. This is no better illustrated than in our growing on-trade (bar and restaurant) customer base.
Do you have plans to expand into other product categories?
From day 1 our aim has been to create a drinks brand. We have never wanted to dilute that by offering other products that are loosely connected to health (protein balls and the like). As a brand we are exploring new markets in 2016. The summer of this year will see a new diffusion product range from Botanic Lab that is more focused on bridging the gap between health drinks and soft drinks and providing a much wider audience with a Botanic Lab experience. Rather than taking the route of many juice brands and making slight price reductions on our current products to appeal to more customers (often at the expense of quality and innovation) we are creating a new line of products. The line will encompass many of the unique things that have made Botanic Lab the most innovative drinks brand in category but re-imagined in a new way that makes the drinks more accessible to the wider consumer.
If you could give us one piece of advice on how to live more healthily (without trying too hard!), what would it be?
The human body and mind is a wonderfully complex and highly intelligent machine. My personal wellness practise has been about learning to listen to my own machine and what it is telling me and act accordingly. This can be as simple as eating when I’m hungry or taking a rest when I’m burned out. Or it can mean making yourself do something that is difficult and uncomfortable because you know that it is where you need to go. Wellness can never be about someone else’s goals or experiences. It has to come from within. So put down the Instagram and stop punishing yourself with someone else’s version of perfection.
HUNGRY FOR MORE? Check out the WGSN Lifestyle & Interiors report New Wellness Foods for all the latest products and trends in the category.